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American Life in Poetry: ‘The Guardians’ by Jill Bialosky

Jill Bialosky is a New Yorker, an editor at W. W. Norton, and a daughter grieving the loss of loved ones. It’s unusual for us to print two poems by one poet, in sequence, but this one and the one I selected for next week go very well together. They’re from her new book “The Players,” from Knopf.

The Guardians

All day we packed boxes.

We read birth and death certificates.

The yellowed telegrams that announced

our births, the cards of congratulations

and condolences, the deeds and debts,

love letters, valentines with a heart

ripped out, the obituaries.

We opened the divorce decree,

a terrible document of division and subtraction.

We leafed through scrapbooks:

corsages, matchbooks, programs to the ballet,

racetrack, theatre – joy and frivolity

parceled in one volume –

painstakingly arranged, preserved

and pasted with crusted glue.

We sat in the room in which the beloved

had departed. We remembered her yellow hair

and her mind free of paradox.

We sat together side by side

on the empty floor and did not speak.

There were no words

between us other than the essence

of the words from the correspondences,

our inheritance – plain speak,

bereft of poetry.

Poem copyright 2015 by Jill Bialosky from “The Players” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), and reprinted by permission of the author and publisher. American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited submissions.


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